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FILE PHOTO:A European flag flies outside Grandmaster's Palace on the eve of a European Union leaders summit in Valletta, Malta February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states are expected to decide on Monday to create a joint command centre for the bloc's foreign training missions in Mali, Somalia and Central African Republic, a senior EU official in Brussels said.
Such an agreement would mark a baby step forward on the EU's quest for more security and defence cooperation. While politically sensitive and stalled for years, the bloc has now restarted such efforts, spurred by Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and a growing threat from Islamic militants.
Suggestions by the new U.S. President Donald Trump that he could be less committed to the security of Washington's NATO allies in Europe if they do not meet their defence spending goals have galvanised the EU, creating a new sense of urgency.
Foreign Ministers of the 28 EU states will meet in Brussels on Monday and, the official said, decide on creating the so-called Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) so that it can take over this spring.
It would command the bloc's "non-executive military missions" like the three military training missions the bloc now runs. In the future, it would also cover any capacity-building, monitoring or demobilisation and disarmament military missions.
While symbolically significant, the MPCC would in practice sit within other existing structures in Brussels and be led by the current head of the EU's military staff.
Highlighting how controversial the matter is among EU states, they have long debated whether that person should be called the "commander" or a "director" of the new body.
Any movement towards an "EU military headquarters" has long been opposed by Britain, the bloc's leading military power, but the idea has been revived by Germany and France since the British voted to leave the EU.
"We are very excited, symbolically it is important. Whatever you want to call it, it is a step towards an EU military headquarters with a commander," a French diplomat said.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Toby Davis)